The independent resource on global security

9. Nuclear arms control and non-proliferation


I. Overview

II. Iran and nuclear proliferation concerns

III. Dismantling North Korea’s nuclear programme

IV. Controversy over an alleged nuclear facility in Syria

V. Russian–US strategic nuclear arms control

VI. Developments related to multilateral treaties and initiatives

VII. Conclusions


Read the full chapter [PDF].


In 2008 Iran’s nuclear programme remained at the centre of international controversy. Iran continued to install gas centrifuges at its main uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz, leading the United Nations Security Council to adopt two new resolutions, 1803 and 1835, demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) made efforts to investigate allegations of research and other activities that point to a possible military dimension to Iran’ nuclear programme. The resulting impasse highlighted shortcomings in the IAEA’s power to investigate suspected nuclear weaponization activities.


The year ended with a breakdown of the agreement reached in the Six-Party Talks—between China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Russia and the United States—on  a multi-phase plan under which North Korea would shut down and disable ‘for the purpose of eventual dismantlement’ its nuclear facilities in return for economic and political benefits. A dispute arose between North Korea and the USA over measures to verify North Korea’s declaration of its plutonium production programme. It centred on whether inspectors would be allowed to visit sites not included in North Korea’s declaration and to use environmental sampling and other forensic techniques. Controversy continued over US and Israeli allegations that North Korea had provided covert technical assistance to Syria for building an undeclared nuclear reactor.


Elsewhere, Russia and the USA continued preliminary talks on a new bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement to succeed the 1991 Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START Treaty) and the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty (SORT). The START Treaty, which contains the verification provisions by which the USA and Russia monitor each other’s strategic nuclear forces, is scheduled to expire in December 2009. The two sides continued to disagree over rules for limiting warhead deployments on long-range missiles and aircraft and over the status of warheads removed from operational deployment.


A resurgence of interest in nuclear disarmament continued in 2008 as leading former statesmen in the UK and Germany urged action towards creating a nuclear weapon-free world. The re-emergence of nuclear disarmament as a topic for mainstream public debate helped to spur the launching of several new initiatives by governments, some in conjunction with leading non-governmental organizations, to promote progress towards nuclear disarmament.



Shannon N. Kile (USA) is a Senior Researcher and Head of the Nuclear Weapons Project of the SIPRI Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.

Shannon N. Kile